Q & A with Hilda Baro Zamora


8/10/2010


Q & A with Hilda Baro Zamora
Head of the Partagas Cigar Factory since Jan. 1998
What actually made you move up the ladder to this post so full of responsibilities?
I’m a person with nearly 23 years of working experience who’s had the opportunity to walk down only one path. It never occurred to me to take a shortcut. I started out in 1987 in La Corona, right after finishing my college studies of Economics in the former Soviet Union, without knowing what the end might be, what reality and love were going to be. I found it all there. To me it was like walking into a world of leaves and machinery. There were hand-rolled cigars and machine-made cigars. It was a factory, like a huge sugarcane mill where many cigars were hand-rolled while the machines were churning out others.
I started there as a economics expert and served stints in production and as chief deputy director until I was tapped director back in 1998.
I was proposed by outing director Ernesto Lopez and the late Mario Delgado, chief of the Tobacco Industry. I had eleven years of experience at that time.
La Corona factory was right across from the El Morro Castle, next to the Presidential Palace, and that was so cool. I grew to know the place like the palm of my hand.
I know how to hand-roll a cigar, but I’ve never taken the time to do it. I’ve got a couple of challenges before reaching the tender age of 50, which are graduate from my English course and hand-roll a cigar.
It’s a major challenge. People see cigars as a product. They learn to make them, so to me that would be like winning a gold medal in the Olympics or flying to the Moon. Those leaves wrap up the efforts of many people, human beings that from the seedlings to the plants and then till the product is finished have to stand up for it because it’s simply the very best.
I read a story that since Christopher Columbus came, many people learned about it and tried to take it to Europe as an offering.
My other big challenge is the rebuilding and remodeling of the factory. I’d love to see it back on its feet, to be looked up at as history, tradition and an architectural object, especially now that we’ve lost some of the flagship cigar factories: La Corona, Hoyo de Monterrey, Por Larrañaga.

The 165th Anniversary of Partagas
Now the Partagas factory will turn 165 years old.
What reflections or thoughts bring up this anniversary?
-Just imagine how many things came to pass through all these years since 1845 when this factory was built right here. Just try to picture that. The Capitol was not there, only the Vapor Square and a train station. How many things actually happened in different historic stages, yet this huge building stood there and the Partagas brand prevailed, including those other brands that also helped build this factory in different moments, like Cifuentes, Partagas, Bolivar, la Gloria Cubana. But that’s been the strongest of all, with its unforgettable Serie D No. 4, or the 898 and the unforgettable Lusitana de Partagas, and more recently the Serie P No. 2 with a superior format to the Serie D No. 4, but that never reached the market to prevent the other brands from being snuffed out, but rather to be a part of that rock-solid and harmonious whole. It just came to be a part of it.
What are the features of Serie D No. 4?
It’s a figurative form of speech, like the cannon balls that remained in the squares and the forts during the colonial rule.
It’s like a love that carries on and never grows older, but bigger. In the Partagas trademark you can see the human being carrying on. And if you take a closer look, cigars and human beings or women, are all the same. They are made up of a skeleton, muscles and skin. The skeleton defines the brand, the taste and the composition; the muscles support the bones, while the skin provides beauty, and finally you dress them up. I believe this brand has paid tribute to the human being.
Who founded it? Jaime Partagas.
There are some years that become milestones for mankind. The year 1845 was one of those, the year of the great European revolutions, and even though in Cuba there was no such thing as a Cuban identity, Partagas popped up as one of its identity tokens.
From that period of time, many documents have been handed over to the Tobacco Museum, historic documents of tremendous value, but many objects disappeared.


The Habano House and its Event
We know this year the factory will celebrate it’s 165 anniversary with an special humidor.
-The humidor is named 165th Anniversary. It carries two vitolas. One is the 109 from Partagas, and the other one is the Sublime –a thick vitola, ring gauge 54, and long enough for anyone who wants to rule the world and make a splash: somewhere between 6,7 and 6,9 inches.
It’s classic and veteran. The blend has been pieced together by the oldest rollers: Arnaldo Bicho, Alfredo Martinez and Julio Leon. The wise way of handpicking the colors of the wrapper went to Cuco, one of Cuba’s finest cigar experts. That mastery will be passed on to much younger cigar rollers who are by and large the new breed of cigar makers.
This humidor combines two things: one, the representation of the strong macho man, while the other stands for the tough and hardened woman. You take a look at them and it seems as if you were looking at a man and a woman, one with the head hanged and other one is the opposite.
I’m seeing a man and a woman; I’m watching two complements together in just one brand, a couple of classic contrasts. The 109 was in the 155th anniversary humidor, so it’s now making a comeback.


Brands Bring the Taste.
What’s Partagas’ distinctive feature?
-Within the brands, it’s the strongest one, the cigar with the most classical, strongest taste, very distinctive in terms of strength. In the book of Habanos, that’s the darkest one in terms of strength.
It was always that way?
-If you delve into history, you’ll see it’s always been that way because the Partagas brand has always targeted the Spanish market. And history has it that Spaniards used to smoke… the strongest cigars.

Tell me now about women’s involvement in this history. How much influence do women’s hands exert on this product?
-Well, history is made by men with a woman in tow. It’s always been said that great men have always had great women behind. That’s still the same today.
Tobacco is a world of men. It looks more logical to see a man puffing on a cigar, while it’s kind of bizarre to see a women smoking a stogie.
This was a men’s world because they were the ones looking for jobs, while women stayed home. It’s a world in which factory owners had male children, like the Partagas family.
You speak of cigar male rollers, pickers, experts, and you can also speak of female ringers and wick removers, because those were underpaid jobs. Ringing cigars is a sweeter, weaker, more delicate job, and the same thing happens with wick removers.
In my case, I haven’t been discriminated against. I cannot say I was discriminated against here for being a woman. There were 13 of us and I recall director Oscar Gonzalez once told me that any woman could run that factory. I can’t speak of any form of discrimination, of having been snubbed. In my case, I’ve known a world of men who look up at what women do. Of course, since it’s a woman the one at the helm, this has made women’s work breezier in here. It’s even a matriarchy now.
There’s no problem with the overpowering presence of women in the workforce or in the front office. I came to La Corona when this was a world of men. But I haven’t worked in a place where women’s efforts are ignored. This is a place where men praise what women do and where women praise themselves for their jobs.
The Board of Directors has 14 members and 11 of them are women. It’s unbelievable. I look at them and get stunned. As much as 61 percent of the workforce is made up of women. There are 450 permanent jobs in the payroll, plus 280 apprentices. In that group there are more men than women.
Partagas is like a train that gets on the move the first day of every year, that it only needs fuel to chug along. This machinery kicked off back in 1845 and will work for forever more.